Long before the first GI struggled ashore at Omaha on June 6, 1944 the United States' Army Air Force 8th Air Force had been taking the war to Nazi Germany. The first operation launched from newly constructed airfields in East Anglia on 17 Aug 1942, when the 97th Bombardment Group, part of VIII Bomber Command flew 12 B-17Es on the first heavy bomber mission of the war from RAF Polebrook, attacking the Rouen-Sotteville marshalling yards in France.
Eventually the USAAF would have squadrons operating from airfields as far west as the New Forest and as far north as Hull but the bulk were concentrated in Norfolk and Suffolk, still known today as "Bomber Country".
The USAAF 8th Air Force concentrated on daytime missions over Europe employing a policy of tactical and strategic bombing, the latter hitting targets like the German aircraft industry, oil production and ball bearings factories.
The 8th Air Force decided on daylight bombing raids with the RAF opting for night raids as they (The RAF) considered them less vunerable to fighter attacks and the heavy flack that protected key German targets. The US 8th Air Force decided on daylight raids as they believed that this allowed for precision raids and precision bombing with the the theory that fewer raids would be needed in the long term for bombing to succeed. So they thought...
The first full B17 mission against Germany took place in August 1942. The B17's flew in a wedge formation that should have given them massive fire power against any attackers. However, German fighter pilots quickly learned that a frontal attack exploited the vulnerability of the machine guns that that the B17's carried mainly on the sides of the bombers. In 1943, it was estimated that over 33% of the B17 crews would not survive the war and the huge losses sustained in daylight raids nearly caused an end to their raids.
However, a study done by the 8th Air Force showed that over 50% of plane losses were as a result of B17's leaving the protection of their formation so in 1944 a new pattern of flying was introduced. As B17's had traditionally flown in wedges of 18 they were now to fly in formations of 36 - three layers - one on top of the other. This gave the new flight formations of 36 machines huge firepower especially as the new Model G had been given more machine guns at the front of the plane to fight off frontal assaults. The new Model G now carried thirteen .50 calibre machine guns giving each plane hugely increased protection capacity. Daylight bombing however was extremely risky, and they suffered very heavy casualties until the long range fuel tank equipped Mustangs were also able to accompany them throughout their missions, seeing off the horde of deadly German Me109 & Focke Wulf 190 fighters that had decimated the B17 'Flying Fortress' bomber fleets previously.
The bombing raids on Germany by the 8th Air Force and the RAF's Bomber Command, took the heart out of Germany's industrial production. By September 1944, Germany had lost 75% of its fuel production. Out of the 1.5 million tons of bombs dropped on Germany, the B17 dropped 500,000 tons. The 8th Air Force had fired 99 million rounds of ammunition during these flights and it is thought that 20,000 German planes were destroyed. In total, over 12,000 B17's were built in the war and nearly 250,000 Americans experienced flying in them. 46,500 were either killed or wounded. However, the part played by the B17 in the European theatre of war was of IMMENSE importance.
The 8th Air Force made a major contribution to the shortening of the war in Europe but paid a heavy price losing 18,418 aircraft and 23,805 men in the ETO. It is therefore fitting that the American Air Museum is located at Duxford - a former RAF fighter station that was used by USAAF fighters during World War II.
(Click here for some stunning colour photographs of the young men and machines of the mighty 8th air force....)
Here's also an amazing original film of the young men at their base in Sudbury England.
Here is a Spirit of Remembrance Facebook image gallery of one of the most amazing WW2 survival flying stories of all times featuring a USAAF 8th Air Force B17 "All American"....